1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Staff

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STAFF (O. Eng. staef, cf. Du. staf, Ger. Stab, &c; Icel. stafr meant also a written letter, and O. Eng. stafas, the letters of the alphabet; "stave," one of the thin pieces of wood of which a cask is made, is a doublet), a long stick or pole, used either as an aid in walking, as a weapon as in the old quarter-staff (q.v.) or as a symbol of dignity and office, e.g. the pastoral staff (q.v.). Further the word is applied to the pole on which a flag is hoisted and to various measuring surveying instruments. Probably from the early use of the word for the letters of the alphabet, "staff" and its doublet "stave" came to be used of a line, verse or stanza, and in musical notation (q.v.) of the horizontal lines on which notes are placed to indicate the pitch. A particular use, perhaps derived from the sense of an aid or help, is that of a body of assistants, particularly military.

The military staff organization of to-day, with its subdivision and specialization, is a modern product. Although generals have always provided themselves with aides-de-camp and orderlies, the only official corresponding to a modern staff officer in a 16th or 17th century army was the "sergeant-major-general" or "major-general," in whom was vested the responsibility of forming the army in battle array and also the command of the foot. In those days armies, large and small, were arrayed in deep formations and, occupying but a narrow front both in camp and in battle, were easily manageable by one man and his messengers. A little later, however, we find a "quarter-master-general" and his assistants charged with the duties of selecting camps, reconnoitring the country and collecting information generally. The quartermaster-general himself was sometimes used, as Marlborough used Cadogan (q.v.), not only as chief-of-staff and as quartermaster-general in the strict sense, but also as the general's authorized representative with detachments, advanced guards, &c. But there was no subdivision of functions in the modern sense. A staff was a group of officers attached temporarily to headquarters and available for any mission which the commander thought fit to give them, and in the highly centralized armies of those days these missions (as regards junior officers) were practically limited to orderly work and reconnaissance, especially topographical reconnais- sance. Subordinate generals had aides-de-camp only. Apart, then, from the "adjutants" or personal staff s (amongst whom must be reckoned the commander-in-chief's secretary, generally a civilian), the staff in the field in Frederick the Great's day was the quartermaster-general's staff, and it was chiefly con- cerned, both in peace and war, with military engineering duties. In the Seven Years' War Frederick's Q.M.G. staff.[1] comprised two to six officers, usually engineers, and by 1806 the quarter- master-general had practically monopolized engineering and scientific appointments at headquarters. Summer the staff officers devoted to surveying and topographical reconnaissance; winter to the codification of the information obtained. None of them were employed or trained with troops, although Frederick the Great sometimes made the quartermaster-general's officers at Berlin do duty with the guards.

With the French Revolution, however, the organization of the staff gradually modified itself to suit the new conditions of warfare. The size of armies necessitated subdivision and separate staffs for the subordinate leaders, their mobility reduced the importance of minute tqpographical reconnaissance, and the necessity of communicating between the several groups of an army produced an increased demand for orderly officers. But naturally a fully developed staff system did not spring to life immediately. Only by degrees were generals evolved who could handle large and mobile armies, and the highly gifted army leaders who in time appeared, Napoleon of course above all, scarcely needed a general staff. Napoleon had a chief of staff, Marshal Berthier, who bore the old title of "major- general," but Berthier was practically a chief clerk, a man of extraordinary aptitude for business. Berthier's staff was distinctly a mobile war office, and the great captain who needed not advice, but obedience, was wont to despatch his orders by a crowd of subalterns. The principal contribution, therefore, made by Napoleon to the development of staff organization was the thorough establishment of the principle of corps and divisional autonomy. Corps and divisions to be self- contained required, and they were furnished with, their own staffs. The old type of " quartermaster," whose "castrametation" and engineering science had been essential in the days of rigid indivisible armies, disappeared and gave way to a type of staff officer whose duty was to translate his chief's general instructions (other than those delivered in the field by the gallopers of the personal staff) into orders for the various subordinate commanders. The general staff officer's functions as strategical assistant to his chief were non-existent. This system worked satisfactorily in the main while Berthier was at the head of the central office, somewhat less satisfactorily in the Waterloo campaign when Marshal Soult occupied his place, and worst of all it worked in various wars of the 19th century in which the self-contained great general was not forthcoming. The general staff became a mere bureau, divorced from the army. Thus on the French side in 1870 Marshal Bazaine so far distrusted his general staff that he forbade it to appear on the battlefield, and worked the army almost wholly by means of his personal staff. Thus the latter, the mere mouthpiece of the marshal, issued sketchy strategical orders for movements, and so reduced the rate of marching of the army to five or six miles a day; while the former, kept in the dark by the commander-in-chief, issued either no orders at all or orders that had no reference to the real condition of affairs and the marshal's intentions. The army at large distrusted both staffs equally.

The Prussian general staff was as different from this staff of bureaucrats and amateurs as day from night. Even before 1806 Massenbach (g.v.) had added the preparation of strategical plans to the work of the quartermaster-general's staff, obtaining thus at the expense of the adjutant-general's side the powers of a general staff in the modern sense. That he was incapable of using these powers is shown by the mournful history of Jena. But another quartermaster-general in the war of 1806, Scharnhorst (q.v.), took up his work and in a very different spirit. In Scharnhorst's first instructions of 1808 it was laid down that an accurate knowledge of troops and a general know- ledge of country were essential to a staff officer who was to be practised in exercises with troops and also in surveying. Scharnhorst, moreover, distributed general staff officers in peace to the provincial commands. The business-like habits which he instilled into his pupils, and their close touch with commanders and troops, began a tradition of efficient and accurate staff work in the field, work in which the previous Prussian staff (and indeed all contemporary staffs except Napoleon's) had failed. Thus it was that although the battle of Gravelotte-Saint-Privat was fought on the German side by over 200,000 men and in' two or three distinct phases with little central direction, and, moreover, was not finished until after dark, Moltke had in his hands at dawn next morning a complete account of the events of the battle, and of the losses and condition of the troops of each corps. This was the fruit not only of methodical training in the theory of staff duties but of 'constant practice with troops in field manoeuvres.

Another very important feature of the Scharnhorst system was the periodical return of all general staff officers to regimental duty. This indeed has often been considered the keynote of efficiency. It did not at first meet with universal approval, but, like so many other military institutions in Prussia, financial considerations helped to ensure its retention until its intrinsic merits were proved in war. Just as the army was kept at a low peace effective and augmented on mobilization from a numerous reserve, so the staffs were small in peace, but as many officers as possible were passed through them so as to form a staff reserve within the regimental strength of the army.

But above all, the circulation of staff officers made it possible to educate the regimental officer in the approved doctrines of strategy and tactics. "Unity of doctrine" meant that instead of the complicated instructions hitherto issued for any operation, a brief note or even a hint was sufficient. In an army with a "doctrine" all ranks from general to subaltern speak the same language and use the same term in the same sense. There must always be shades of interpretation, varying with the individual officer, as was notably the case in all that Prince Frederick Charles and Blumenthal did in execution of Moltke's "directives" in 1866 and 1870. But the general lines of action in such an army are thoroughly fixed.

A further consequence of the new conception of staff work was an enormous increase in the "discretionary" powers of all officers. If there is to be one and only one doctrine, that doctrine must be comprehensive and elastic, and education in it must consist chiefly in applying the general principle to the specific case. Thence it was not a long step to the notion that an officer could disregard a superior's orders if the situation on which they were based was wrongly conceived or had changed in the meantime. For the test of such independent action is that the "inferior should be conscientiously satisfied that the superior, in his place, would act as he himself proposes to do," and this, of course, is the very purpose of unity of doctrine. The exercise of initiative was peculiarly useful and necessary in the case of the staff officer. He could not only disobey superior orders, but give orders in the name of superior authority. He was better able than any other person to say, not only what action the Field Service Regulations laid down generally for such problems as that in hand, but also what solution his own general, possessing better information than the regimental officers, would adopt if present. The latitude in this respect accorded to German staff officers as well as to German commanders, is a most striking phenomenon of the war of 1870 (e.g. Colonel von Caprivi before Vionville and Colonel von der Esch at Worth).

The result of unity of doctrine, then, was that a properly qualified officer could act as a substitute for his superior, and that the orders which he gave in that capacity were obeyed even by officers higher in rank than the originator of the order. This principle, owing to the peculiar circumstances of the German army, was carried to an extreme in the case of the chiefs of staff. Moltke himself was a chief of staff, the king, although more experienced than any officer in his army, deliberately accepting Moltke's guidance and assuming the responsibility for the orders that Moltke issued in his name. On several occasions the kings indeed formed a different conclusion from Moltke's and gave his orders accordingly, but these were exceptions. The effect of this, however, is not to deprive or to relieve the actual commander from the responsibility for the results of his action, whether that action was suggested by his own brain or by his staff officer's. Such an arrangement depends moreover on mutual confidence. The self-sufficing great commander does not need a Moltke, an average general is wholly ruled by his mentor; and between these two extremes the influence of the chief of staff varies according to circumstances and the character of the general. In the German armies of 1870, for example, the chief staff officer was in one case the reflector of his chief's views, in another he was the real army commander, in a third the characters of the two men were opposed in an almost paralysing equilibrium, while in a fourth the staff officer's business was to soothe and encourage an angry and disheartened commander and at the same time to “keep him straight.”

This delicate adjustment is a necessary result of the absorption—inevitable under modern conditions of war—of strategical and even tactical functions by the general staff. The serious risks of disunion within the headquarters—and 1870 proves that even “unity of doctrine” does not altogether eliminate this disunion—has to be faced, and is best insured against by the selection of officers appropriate to each other. The imagination and technique of Hess supplemented the vigorous common-sense of Radetzky; Blucher, with the single supreme military quality of character, could leave all the brain-work to his Gneisenau. But usually, unless other than purely military considerations determine the selection of the general-in-chief (in which case he can make the best soldier in the army—irrespective of seniority—his adviser), smooth and efficient working is best secured when the general and his chief of staff possess the same military qualities in different balance, each compensating the other's weaknesses and deriving strength from the other's good qualities. In the Prussian account of the war of 1859 Moltke writes:—

“Great captains have no need of counsel. They study the questions which arise, and decide them, and their entourage has only to execute their decisions. But such generals are stars of the first magnitude, who scarcely appear once in a century. In the great majority of cases the leader of the army cannot do without advice. This advice may be the outcome of the deliberations of a small number of qualified men. But within this small number one and only one opinion must prevail. The organization of the military hierarchy must ensure subordination even in thought, and give the right and duty of presenting a single opinion for the examination of the general-in-chief to one man, and one only. He will be appointed, not by seniority, but by reason of the confidence he inspires. The general-in-chief will always have, as compared with his adviser, the infinitely weightier merit of having assumed the responsibility of executing what he advises.”

Thus the chief of the general staff is defined in the British Field Service Regulations as the general's “responsible adviser on all matters affecting military operations, through whom he exercises his functions of command and by whom all orders issued by him will be signed.”

Staff Duties in the Field.—The manifold duties essential and incidental to commanding and administering an army, which the general performs, as above defined, through his staff, are in the British service classified broadly into three headings—general staff work, adjutant-general's work and quartermaster-general's work. The immediate head of the general staff, and (if the general delegates the duty) the supervising authority over the other staffs, is the chief of the general staff. The link between the army and the inspector-general or controller of its lines of communication is the quarter-master-general. All details required for insertion in general staff (i.e. “operation”) orders that come within the adjutant-general's or the quartermaster-general's branch are drafted by those branches in accordance with the general lines laid down by the general staff, and inserted in the orders issued by the general staff. “Routine” orders are drafted and issued by the other staffs themselves.

a. General Staff Duties {Operations).—The study of proposed opera- tions; the framing, issue and despatch of the operation orders; plans for movements to the points of concentration and for strategic deployment; general allotment of areas for quarters; measures of security; intercommunication; reconnaissance; acquisition, collation and distribution of information as to the enemy and the country ; flags of truce and correspondence with the enemy ; censorship; provision, distribution and revision of maps; reports and despatches relating to operations ; furnishing of the adjutant-general's and quartermaster-general's staffs with information as to the situation and probable requirements of the troops, and receiving from these branches such information as affects the operations in prospect.

b. Adjutant-General's Staff (Personnel).—Discipline; application of military law, martial law and international law, both to the army and to the civil population of occupied areas; questions of promotion, appointments of officers, pay, rewards, enlistments; chaplain's services; casualties and invaliding; medical and sanitary services; organization of new corps and drafts; prisoners of war; police ; routine and interior economy; ceremonial.

c. Quartermaster-General's Staff (Matériel).—Distribution of camps and quarters within allotted areas; supplies, equipment and clothing (except medical stores); transport by land and sea; railway administration; remounts; veterinary service; postal service.

The work of the lower staffs—divisions and brigades—is similarly subdivided as far as necessary. There are, moreover, the small personal staffs (aides-de-camp) of the army and divisional commanders. The work of the latter is not of course as important as it was under the old system, and is partly of a social character, partly orderly work. The headquarters staff of an army of six infantry and one cavalry divisions consists of: Personal Staff, 5 officers; General Staff, chief and 10 other officers; Adjutant-General's Staff, adjutant-general and 4 officers; Quartermaster-General's Staff, quartermaster-general and 3 officers; attached in various capacities, 28 officers. 232 non-commissioned officers and men are employed in the work of headquarters as clerks, printers, cooks, servants, &c. The staff of a division consists of: Personal, 2 aides-de-camp; General, 3 or 4 officers; Adjutant-General's, 1 officer; Quartermaster-General's, 1 officer; attached, 8 officers; rank and file attached, 64-80 men. A brigade staff consists of one general staff officer for opera- tions, a brigade major for administration, and one aide-de-camp: attached, 1 officer; rank and file, 33-45.

Staff Duties in Peace.—In modern conditions peace is normal and war exceptional ; moreover, as between European nations, the need of a swift decision of a quarrel is so urgent that immediately after mobilization and concentration, if not indeed during these preliminaries, the decisive action of the war may be begun. Success in such a war is the consequence of national spirit in the first place and of the peace training of all ranks in the second. The direction and supervision of the latter is the principal duty of a staff in time of peace, and therefore the specialization of staff functions, referred to above, in the three branches of operations, personnel and materiel, is as well marked in peace as in war. The two latter branches, which are concerned with the maintenance rather than the use of an army, are necessarily quite as fully occupied in peace as in war, for the life of the army is uninterrupted. But the “general staff” branch would not have enough work to justify a separate existence, were it not for the fact that on the battlefield nothing can be reaped that has not been sown. Nowadays, as the decisive battle immediately follows the concentration of the armies, the crop that is expected to be reaped must be sown in peace time. To this end the modern general staff in peace not only has an existence apart from the routine and supply staffs, but, as in war, occupies the first place in importance. In Great Britain, perhaps more than in any other state, the functions of training and administration are very sharply differentiated. Each commander-in-chief of a large group of garrisons has under him not only a brigadier-general at the head of the general staff, but a major-general “in charge of administration,” who in all questions of administration is the alter ego of the commander-in-chief. The latter is thus free to devote himself to the training of his troops, which he carries out through the medium of his general staff officers. Only those administrative questions that involve important decisions come before him, the whole of the routine work being carried out by the general in charge of administration in his own office and on his own responsibility.

In the War Office, the general staff work, under the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, is classified into three main heads, for each of which there is a general officer as “director.” These are: (a) Military Operations, in which all strategical matters connected with imperial defence and operations overseas are studied, (b) Staff Duties, which organizes and co-ordinates the whole of the general staff work, and also deals with questions of war organization. (c) Military Training, which supervises the Staff College and other educational institutions and also the Officers' Training Corps, and controls and in some cases conducts the professional examinations of officers and candidates for commissions. Under this branch is placed the section which arranges questions of home defence.

The administrative work is divided between the three departments of the Adjutant-General (peace organization, mobilization arrangements, record offices and routine orders, medals, regimental distinctions, titles, &c. ; certain artillery and engineer services ; and the large and exceedingly important service of personnel, discipline, recruiting, casualties, drafts and reliefs) ; the Quartermaster-General (movements and quartering, barracks, railway administration, mobilization arrangements for rail and sea transportation; remounts and registration of horses for service in war; Army Service Corps work, including horse and mechanical transport, vehicles, &c. ; training of administrative personnel; veterinary duties; provision and maintenance of supplies, clothing and stores) ; the Master-General of the Ordnance (armaments and weapons of all kinds, ammunition and explosive stores, military engineering and fortifications, barrack and building construction). Besides these three departments there are the civil departments of the Civil Member of the Army Council, under whom, on account of its citizen character, has been placed the administration of the Territorial Force, and who has further all duties connected with war department lands, roads, &c. ; and of the Finance Minister, which works out the annual estimates, examines financial proposals such as contracts, administers the Army Pay Department, and deals with accounts and audits.

Directly under the Army Council is the department of the Inspector-General of the Forces, whose duties are to review and report upon the training and efficiency of all troops under the home government, the state of stores, remounts, &c, with regard to war requirements, and the condition of fortifications.

See Bronsart von Schellendorf, Duties of the General Staff (Eng. trans., 1904); Spenser Wilkinson, The Brain of an Army; British official Field Service Regulations (1909); pt. ii.; King's Regulations, and Field Service Pocket Book; v. Janson, Generalstabsdienst im' Frieden (1901) ; French official Aide-Mémoire de l'officier d'état-major.

  1. The "general staff" was simply the list of general officers.